In the face of mounting pressure and speculation to endorse current Swapo vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah as his preferred candidate, party leader President Hage Geingob has refused to budge.
He will not endorse a preferred candidate to succeed him beyond his second term as Swapo’s president.
As things stand, Geingob will retain the party presidency, unchallenged.
Whoever is elected vice president is likely to be Swapo’s presidential candidate in 2024.
The three positions – vice president, secretary general and deputy secretary general – will be up for grabs at congress.
Today, the Swapo political bureau will nominate candidates for the three positions. In the past, Geingob’s predecessors, Founding President Sam Nujoma and former President Hifikepunye Pohamba all threw their weight behind their deputies.
At the watershed extraordinary congress in 2004, Nujoma backed Pohamba – then Swapo vice president – as his preferred candidate.
Nujoma’s blessing, however, did not deter party veterans such as the late Hidipo Hamutenya and Nahas Angula from challenging Pohamba.
A re-run was later required between Hamutenya and Pohamba to determine the eventual victor.
Pohamba eventually won the battle for the party vice presidency, while he was also confirmed as the Swapo candidate for the general election in 2004.
In 2007, Nujoma would exit the political stage, forever, leaving Pohamba in charge of the ruling party and country.
At that congress, Geingob returned from the political wilderness after a brief stint in the United States of America.
Senior Swapo leaders, including Pohamba, backed Geingob at that congress.
With his popularity at its peak, Swapo stalwart Jerry Ekandjo was seen as the only stumbling block between Geingob and the vice president position.
Ekandjo withdrew from the race, and allowed Geingob to run unopposed.
That year, then Swapo diehards – Hamutenya, Jeremiah Nambinga, Kandy Nehova, Jesaya Nyamu and Mike Kavekotora – left the ruling party en masse to form the Rally for Democracy and Progress after the dust from 2004 refused to settle.
In 2012, again, Pohamba endorsed Geingob as his ideal candidate for the position of vice president.
Geingob faced stiff competition in the form of Ekandjo and fellow party stalwart Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana.
Geingob saw off his competitors.
In 2017, something happened, and it changed Geingob’s life forever.
“It is important to note that President Geingob, as the sitting Swapo Party president, went through a humiliating process in 2017, contrary to the party’s established tradition for sitting presidents not to be challenged by competitors.
This was not the case under the preceding two Swapo presidents, the Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma and President Hifikepunye Pohamba,” the Presidency said over the weekend.
Geingob was responding to growing calls by party veterans to anoint his deputy as his favoured successor.
It is a disingenuous call for Geingob to ratify Nandi-Ndaitwah’s presidential ambitions, both at party and state level.
“The purpose of the tradition is to ensure stability and steady leadership in-between successions, and to keep the party united,” the Presidency continued.
“Alas, overnight, the Swapo Party rules on succession were hastily changed by some opportunistic hopefuls to again try what they were unable to achieve in 2012 at the vice president level by this time challenging his Swapo Party presidency in 2017. This time too, they were decisively defeated by president Geingob,” reads the statement.
In Swapo, this phenomenon where the sitting president sanctions the sitting vice president as their chosen candidate is called ‘guided democracy’.
In 2012, a field of candidates contested the vice presidency, including Geingob.
This phenomenon followed in 2017 when Geingob, Angula and Ekandjo vied for the party presidency, while Helmut Angula, Nandi-Ndaitwah and Iivula-Ithana contested the vice presidency.
At the time, Geingob’s opponents argued that he was never elected as party president at a duly- constituted congress after Pohamba’s hasty departure from active politics.
They insisted Geingob was vice president, meaning the void left by Pohamba’s resignation was never filled.
“However, history has taken its course, and the lieutenants of contested elections ensured that the Swapo congresses of 2004, 2012 and 2017 were all contested,” the Presidency added.
It is also the Presidency’s view that those driving the crusade for Geingob to choose a candidate were nowhere when the head of state’s legitimacy was put to the test in public view.
One of those pushing the narrative is former Namibian ambassador to Botswana Hadino Hishongwa, who is a Swapo stalwart.
“When party tradition was being violated and some felt to challenge president Geingob, who was also the incumbent president of the Republic of Namibia in 2017 for the Swapo presidency, Ambassador Hishongwa never came out to denounce this flagrant flouting of party traditions. He was quiet,” the Presidency stated.
The new Swapo tradition is that the position of VP must be contested, a practice that dates back to 2004.
As prime minister, Geingob had also challenged former deputy prime minister Hendrik Witbooi during the 1997 Swapo congress for the vice presidency position.
Geingob eventually lost to Witbooi.
“Today, it is collectively accepted within the Swapo Party that based on the established precedent over the years, there will always be democratic contestation for leadership positions in Swapo. But such contestation must be in a healthy manner that will result in a stronger, more resilient Swapo, and not a divided Swapo.”
Ironically, despite the contest for the party vice president position, sitting Swapo presidents have always backed their deputies to take over.
This is not the case with Geingob, despite handpicking Nandi-Ndaitwah, Sophia Shaningwa and the late Marco Hausiku to complete his christened ‘Team Harambee’ at the 2017 elective congress.
Reports in 2017 suggested that Geingob included Nandi-Ndaitwah in his slate to secure Pohamba’s endorsement.
Geingob’s ‘one centre of power’ narrative has also been questioned.
During his campaign in 2017, Geingob wanted the Swapo president and the head of state to be one person.
Some within the party questioned why the ruling party’s vice president is not the country’s vice president, in line with the ‘one centre of power’ mantra.
As head of state, Geingob appoints the country’s vice president.
En route to congress, several names have been flaunted of potential contenders for key positions at congress.
So far, the names of Nandi-Ndaitwah and Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila stand head and shoulders above the rest in the race for the vice presidency.
Other candidates, understood to be canvasing for support behind closed doors, include parliamentarian Tobie Aupindi, energy minister Tom Alweendo and defence minister Frans Kapofi.
Swapo SG Sophia Shaningwa does not need a nomination to contest. All indications are she will put up a fight to retain the position.
Meanwhile, Oshikoto coordinator Armas Amukwiyu, who competed against and lost to Shaningwa, is reported to have shown interest in trying again.
Attempts by ambitious candidates to get Geingob’s support have gone into overdrive.
New Era understands a number of potential candidates have all sought the support of Geingob.